GRAND National hero Ryan Mania illustrated in a crazy 24 hours just how tempestuous the life of a National Hunt jockey can be.
A whirlwind tour took the Scottish jockey from the winner’s enclosure at Aintree to a party in his home town of Galashiels, back down to triumphant trainer Sue Smith’s yard in Yorkshire the following morning to meet the media, on to Hexham racecourse for two scheduled rides, and then to hospital in Newcastle after a crashing fall during the first of them.
Mania was last night in a stable condition at Royal Victoria Infirmary as he was treated for the effects of a vicious kick between the shoulder blades, but one suspects that any pain the 23-year-old was feeling would be eased considerably by the afterglow of what he and 66-1 shot Auroras Encore achieved in the world’s most famous horse race.
Incredibly, it was Mania’s first-ever ride in the Grand National. Even the most prolific jumps jockey of all time, Tony McCoy, did not get to savour that special feeling until the 15th time of asking when he scored on Don’t Push It in 2010. This time around, the great McCoy was rendered a spectator – dumped from his mount at the 15th fence – by the time push was coming to shove, as Mania galvanised his mount to a nine-length victory from Cappa Bleu (12-1), Teaforthree (10-1) and Oscar Time (66-1).
The National success may have been a case of first time lucky for Mania, but the Borders boy had worked long and hard to get to the chance. And as he thanked trainer Smith and her husband Harvey Smith, the former international show-jumper, for the faith both they and the owners showed in him, Mania would also be thinking about those who guided him early in his career – including the late Peter Monteith, who gave him a major break at Whitebog in Rosewell, Midlothian.
The death of the popular Monteith in November 2010, and the loss of rising jumps star Campbell Gillies in a holiday accident in Kavos last June, had left Scottish racing in need of a feelgood story, and despite events at Hexham yesterday, Mania’s Grand National glory has provided one.
It was Monteith, in a 2008 interview with The Scotsman, who tipped Mania for the top, having also helped put another Grand National-winning rider Tony Dobbin (Lord Gyllene 1997) on the path to Aintree glory.
Mania – who learned to ride aged three on a Shetland pony – had arrived at Monteith’s yard after spells with Tony Dicke in Dunbar, Howard Johnson in County Durham and Andrew Crow in Jedburgh, and his Rosewell education saw his career blossom.
“I would say Ryan is every bit as good as Tony was,” said Monteith at the time. “He’s so relaxed and nothing appears to faze him. It could be the National or a seller at Kelso and he would still approach the race exactly the same way. I’ve known some young riders in the past who were talented but just didn’t have that extra little ingredient it takes to stand out from the crowd, but Ryan has all the attributes needed to make it to the top.”
The admiration was mutual, Mania saying of Monteith: “Peter’s the best boss in the world. When I do something wrong, he’ll tell me but that’s what I need. If you want to become a better jockey, you have to know which part of your riding needs to be improved so that you can work on it.”
Mania did not put a foot wrong for his new bosses, the Smiths, on Aurora’s Encore, and the quartet were reunited yesterday morning in front of TV cameras and reporters at their Bingley yard in West Yorkshire.
Mania explained how Harvey Smith had persuaded him to come and work for the stable. “Harvey [Smith] spotted me, he’s yet to tell me why,” said Mania, just a few hours before he made his ill-fated trip to Hexham, where he took a heavy fall from Stagecoach Jasper in a handicap hurdle. “He came up to me at the races and asked me to ride out. At the time Henry Oliver was here but just as I started to ride out he broke his leg and I started riding for them. Luckily everything I rode for them won and it’s been going well ever since.
“My dad Kevin is a highly-qualified joiner but is currently cleaning out big water tanks all over and my mum Leslie works for the Scottish Association of Mental Health. They’ve been very supportive all the way through. My phone hasn’t stopped. Last night my local rugby team in Galashiels had their rugby sevens tournament and they phoned up and wanted me to pop in. I was on the pitch with the team under the floodlights and the atmosphere was incredible. I got there at 10.20pm, I tried to go to bed but couldn’t sleep. I was just replaying the race in my head, and then I set off at 5.30am to get back down here. I think I slept for an hour.”
There were very few alarms throughout the National for Auroras Encore, and Mania could not believe how well his tactics worked. “I had a plan in my head, I’d watched all the old renewals and listened to Harvey and it went exactly to plan,” he said.
Auroras Encore is owned by Edinburgh-based Jim Beaumont, who worked in Liverpool’s Adelphi Hotel as a bellboy, Scotsman Douglas Pryde and David van der Hoeven. Pryde said: “We bought him just before Christmas when we were looking for a National horse and Sue said she may have one. Our partner David is on holiday in Greece but that will be his first ever winner.”
Beaumont had another suggestion, which would see Auroras Encore attempt to emulate the legendary Red Rum’s National double back in 1974. He said: “We would like to go for the Scottish National, if Sue says we can.”
Auroras Encore has earned a 10-1 quote for the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr on Saturday, 20 April, but the main concern today is the well-being of Mania. He would have been riding at Kelso today, and while his Hexham spill has denied Scottish racegoers a quick chance to acclaim him, hopefully he will back in the saddle soon.